This talk was recorded at the Institute
for Critical Animal Studies Oceania 2017 Conference in Melbourne. You can find
out more information about this conference here: http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/oceania-conference/
listen to other talks from this conference here.
Below is further information about the
talk from the conference booklet, available here: http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org/booklet/
Speciesist to the Core: Legal Rights and Rationality
What is it that makes a human, human? This is one of the
foundational questions of
Western philosophy and how we choose to answer it has broad
implications for our moral, ethical and legal reasoning about personhood and
Philosophers have set out to identify humans (particularly
able-bodied, heterosexual, white, cisgender males) as higher beings, different
to and separate from other animals, in order to justify human supremacy and
Humanity has therefore been historically defined in
oppositional relation to other animals. Aspects of humanity shared with other
animals have been denigrated and denied and
instead human life has been reduced to one uniquely human
characteristic most commonly relied on is ‘rationality’
which provides the foundation for concepts of legal personhood and rights.
Rationality is however a deeply flawed concept. On its own
reasoning it is not able to
articulate the clear separation between humans and other
animals that it sought to achieve. Recognising this some activist lawyers, like
the Nonhuman Rights Project, have seen an opportunity for rationality, and in
turn legal personhood and rights, to be
extended to a small number of animal species with higher
cognitive functions. These legal arguments have the potential to achieve
positive change for a select few species, and a symbolic victory for the animal
We must however be mindful of how we relate to these future
legal victories; they cannot be seen to legitimate legal rights grounded in
rationality. Even if it can accommodate a few more species rationality is
speciesist to the core. It was developed in a specific attempt to exclude
animals from the moral community. The concept of rationality has also been used
to deny equality to women, colonised people and more.
It is essential that we look to redefine what it means to be
human, to recognise our animal nature, and to provide alternative theories of
rights. Only then can we hope to achieve
justice for all, humans and animals.
an activist for human and animal liberation who is currently living in the UK.
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